About Catherine Wilson

Catherine is a Wellness Advocate with Spirited Life. Catherine has degrees in Physical Therapy and Public Health and has worked on projects domestically and internationally around developmental disabilities and community health promotion. In her spare time, Catherine enjoys running with her dog, visiting the North Carolina mountains with her husband, and reading in her back yard.

Music that moves you


My music career has been utterly unsuccessful (sorry, Mom). Consider the evidence:

I was an enthusiastic member of the school chorus, but most directors quickly determined that I was best situated in the company of stronger voices. My one ‘solo’ in middle school was actually a speaking part.

My most fervent memory of handbell choir was the time where our music minister stopped me mid-performance and had us all start from the top.

One Christmas, I requested and received a keyboard. Sadly neither rhythm nor coordination was included. Undeterred, another year, I asked for a set of bongos. I thought that perhaps a percussion instrument that afforded two surfaces on which to play would set me up for greater success. No luck.

Happily, my lack of musical talent does not dampen my interest in music. I particularly love music when I run and when I drive. I’ve found truth in research that suggests that music can have a profound influence on mood and often serves as a boost during exerciseDr. Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology at Northwestern, studies the effects of music on the nervous system. She says, “Our bodies are made to be moved by music and move to it.”

One group that is moving me lately is Mumford & Sons. I am not alone in this: many coworkers and pastors we work with seem to have songs from this English folk rock band sprinkled through their playlists and echoing in their minds.

Spirited Life participant Jason Byassee is among them. In a recent piece on the Christian Century’s blog, Jason contends that Mumford & Sons is the most important band for the church since U2. He states that the band’s power as performers, lyricists, and musicians stems from their language of faith and because the themes of love and friendship in their songs are beautiful, simple, and honest:

“One commentator pointed out the deep pathos in “I Will Wait.” Its lyrics are so simple as to be barely quotable here; the chorus repeats the title over and over again…But you can’t belt that line unless you’ve had someone fail to wait for you before. Unless you’ve been betrayed, left hanging, shut out—and you’re making a promise not to do that to someone else. It’s a song about friendship. And not much else is worth singing about with that kind of self-forgetful ecstasy.”

One of my favorite excerpts from Mumford & Sons’ music is from the song ‘Sigh No More’:

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

For me, it is a modern day 1 Corinthians 13 (love is patient, kind…) crossed with Romans 8 (freedom for children of God), with an enchanting melody and a rhythm that resounds deep in my soul, moving my feet, fingers, and heart.

Thanks be to God for those to whom the gift of music has been granted so generously. I am jealous of your talent…but I am working through that, and your music helps.

Catherine Wilson

Images courtesy of Creative Commons users @kMeron & kDamo

‘Physically, Psychologically, and Spiritually Depleted’


The Charlotte Observer ran a news story last week about the medical leave of the Rev. Steve Shoemaker, the pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte.  Shoemaker wrote in a letter to his congregation on December 28 that he is “physically, psychologically, and spiritually depleted, and must get help.”

Shoemaker entered a 30-day residential treatment program in Maryland for help with depression and anxiety.  He said he had been taking prescription medication and had recently been self-medicating with alcohol.

In the article, Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, a member of Myers Park Baptist church, ordained minister, and physician administrator, lauded Shoemaker’s passionate ministry and dedication to improving the lives of others.  She shared: “Being a pastor the way Steve does it, you’re refueling everybody else … but not often do you stop to let the big tanker come and refuel you.”

While this story may have been ground-breaking news for some readers, clergy depression is something we are well aware of at the Clergy Health Initiative.  We encourage pastors to be mindful of their emotional, physical, and mental health, and to seek the support they need to pursue wellness when they are feeling depleted.

At Spirited Life, we give thanks for Rev. Shoemaker’s honesty and vulnerability at a time of exhaustion.  We are grateful for his courage to seek treatment.  Thank you, Rev. Shoemaker, for being a witness to others of our limitations as humans seeking to follow Christ in ministry in the world.  May this time apart and away be one of healing and restoration, to the glory of God the Father, the Great Healer.

–Catherine Wilson

(image by flickr user mlhradio/via Creative Commons)


A Prayer of Peace


In the days that mark Christmas season, many pastors find their hours passing at a different pace and rhythm than they did during most of December. The advent candles have been blown out, the choir’s Lessons and Carols performance is over, and the shepherds and angels from the children’s nativity have transformed back to their roles as children.  There is a chance to be a bit more still, with time for renewal and reflection…a time to reconnect with the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Much of the world now intends to hit the ground running — Christmas items have been purged from retailers’ shelves and yesterday’s Yule-tree has become today’s trash pick-up.  But before you consider joining the masses in committing to regular exercise, earlier bedtimes or other fresh starts in 2013, please join us for a familiar prayer of peace attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Prayer of Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
Oh, Divine Father, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Catherine Wilson

(Photo by flickr user Alex Cameron)

Maintain, Don’t Gain, Over the Holidays


Fresh back from Thanksgiving, it’s official: ’tis the season for holiday eating.  And also countless articles (here, here, and here) about holiday weight gain. While some of these stories pose a scare that Americans may gain, on average, 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the average gain is actually closer to just one pound.

That’s the good news.  The not so good news?  According the National Institutes of Health researchers, that one pound may never come off.  Americans gain an average of .4 to 1.8 pounds each year during their adult lives.

There are lots of reasons why weight gain happens over the holidays.  The increased availability of rich foods.  Stress.  With so many additional activities to attend to, it can be tempting to carve out less time for exercise and sleep, and deprivation of both can contribute to additional pounds.

There also may be a sort of ‘all or nothing’ thinking; once you have blown your diet at one event, it may seem like forgoing exercise and enjoying each delicacy with fervor and enthusiasm is the best way to get into the holiday spirit.  After all, the New Year’s the time for dieting and renewed commitment to exercise, right?

Unfortunately, no.  The easiest way to lose the extra holiday weight is to never put it on.  However, during this season of temptation, keeping the weight off can be much easier said than done, so here are some tips to help keep the scales from creeping up on you:

  • Make a plan. Take a look at your (already very full, I imagine) holiday calendar and schedule in time for exercise, healthy meal preparation, or an early bedtime a night or two per week.  Be prepared for holiday gatherings with these tips on surviving a potluck.
  • Limit treats to one per day.  One way to prevent overeating of sugary and savory holiday goodness is to allow yourself one serving per day, remembering that you may have to compensate later with exercise or holding back from a second treat.
  • Focus on other joys of the season.  Focus your energies on making calorie-free conversation with family and friends at gatherings.  Redirect attention from food to enjoying holiday music, a warm fire, or taking a walk in the crisp outdoors.
  • Don’t make a new year’s resolution for weight loss.  Planning for a ‘brand new you’ in January sets you up to overeat and overindulge now as you anticipate lean times with just carrot sticks to slim you down come January.
  • Sign up for the ‘Maintain Don’t Gain Holiday Challenge’ through the NC Department of Public Health.  You will receive email tips, healthy holiday recipes, and physical activity suggestions to stay healthy during the holidays.  Last year, 89% of the more than 3,000 participants reported maintaining their weight.

We wish you well on your efforts to health and well-being this Christmas season.

Catherine Wilson

Photo by flickr user JoeGray, via CreativeCommons.

The Healthy Mind Platter


It seems there are no shortage of riffs on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid and (newer) choose my plate graphics, which depict the food groups that should be included as part of a healthy diet.  A few weeks ago, we blogged about the Food for Thought Pyramid, a tongue-in-cheek look at what really makes us healthy.

Here’s another, the creation of Daniel Siegel and David Rock, who wondered what the equivalent ‘diet’ would be for a healthy mind.  They developed The Healthy Mind Platter, with seven daily essential mental activities they claim are necessary for optimum mental health.  These activities serve to both strengthen your brain’s internal connections and your connections with those you share your life with.

There is not a temporal serving size for each component, as every individual is different and their needs may change over time.  The goals of The Healthy Mind Platter are to draw attention to a spectrum of essential mental activities and to encourage people to take steps toward achieving balanced mental health by including each of those activities in their daily routine, even if only for a few moments.

I was particularly interested by the yin and yang, the opposite and complimentary nature of the activities.  For example, ‘focus time’ is defined as time spent pursuing tasks in a goal-oriented way, taking on challenges that make deep connections in the brain, whereas ‘down time’ is non-focused time, which allows the mind to completely wander and relax, allowing the brain to recharge.  The same contrasting nature exists between time spent sleeping and time being physically active, or time spent connecting with others versus ‘time in,’ which they describe as time spent quietly reflecting internally.

I wonder if individuals have a tendency to spend more time on one end of the continuum than on the other end and whether the task of investing equal amounts of time on both ends of the spectrum is challenging.  For example, I sometimes have a tendency to overbook connecting with friends and family, and this leaves me little time for meditation and journaling, which are activities I’ve found to be equally important to my ability to recharge.

One way the platter’s creators suggest using the tool is to map out an average day in your life and see how much time you spend engaged in each activity.  If you find there is an activity that is not a part of your routine, consider whether there is there a way to insert even 2 or 3 minutes of it each day. After all, we appreciate the importance of variety in a nutritionally balanced diet, so why shouldn’t it be the same when it comes to mental health?

Catherine Wilson

Image used with permission. © 2011 David Rock and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. (www.neuroleadership.org; www.drdansiegel.com).

Pastor Spotlight: Laura Stern


Rev. Laura Stern is the pastor at Ocracoke United Methodist Church and one of our Group 2 Spirited Life participants. In the passage below, she shares her experience in the program as well as some of the resources she’s found most meaningful as she works to maintain a balanced life:

“I have enjoyed being part of the Spirited Life program. The program sets aside intentional time and space to take seriously the balance (or lack thereof) in my life and ministry.  As a solo pastor and mother of three small children living on a remote island, life is a constant juggling act. Since beginning the program in 2012, I have been exploring ways to bring together the various moving parts in my life.

I have discovered a renewed interest in reading and writing. Setting aside a devotional time early in the morning before the household wakes allows time to pray, think, read, and write.

Some favorite books as-of-late include: The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson; Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott; Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life, by Kathleen Norris; and, the classic for any island pastor, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  Each of these books remind me of the profound depth, possibility, and hope within pastoral ministry.

Between bulletin revisions and waiting for the church copier to warm up, a few clicks online can keep the brain going. Blogs that offer good food-for-thought for me include Jan Richardson’s The Painted Prayerbook and posts on rachelheldevans.com.

Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. While enjoying reading, I keep pushing myself to write. It is a form of spiritual discipline that helps me make connections, add dimension, and stay relevant to my calling.

Last month, I pursued an entire week of writing and learning through an opportunity hosted by the Collegeville Institute entitled “Theology in the Real World: A Week with Kathleen Norris.”  It was an invaluable opportunity to spend a week away from church and family responsibilities, to work alongside pastors and writers from across denominations, and to learn from a bestselling author of creative non-fiction.

I think the core of Spirited Life is about discovery, or perhaps re-discovery, of ourselves, our calling, and joy within our lives. Over the past few months, this discovery has taken the form of reading and writing. I look forward to what other discoveries will come about as I continue through the Spirited Life program.”

Compiled by Catherine Wilson

Photo courtesy of Laura Stern, featuring her children Gretchen (7), Nicholas (4), and Charlie (2).

Lessons from the Blue Zones Project


I recently celebrated my grandmother’s 88th birthday with my family.  Granny’s mantra for the weekend was “I never thought I’d live this long.”  She shared about two friends of hers that are 100 and 102.  “Now that’s just plain old,” she said.

In the United States, those ‘old folks’ are members of the fastest growing segment of the American population.  Thanks to advances in modern medicine, Americans are living longer lives.  In 1924, the year when Granny was born, the life expectancy for an American female was 65.1 years.  In 2007, it was 80.8.

One out of every 5,000 Americans will reach 100 years of age, according to National Geographic writer and explorer Dan Buettner.  But in a 2009 TED talk, he shares that there are pockets of the world that have a significantly higher concentration of centurions.  A Danish study of twins suggests that the length of a person’s life is 1/10 determined by genetics — the rest is attributed to lifestyle.  So what is it about the culture and lifestyle of Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Ikaria, Greece that makes living there so conducive to long life?

That’s exactly what the Blue Zones Project aims to find out.  When National Geographic teamed up with Buettner and longevity researchers, they found that cultures that can boast high concentrations of centurions also emphasize:

  • Pleasure in physical activity.  Movement is incorporated into daily routines, with individuals relying less  on energy-saving technology and placing greater emphasis on enjoying nature walks or gardening.
  • Time to downshift, to de-stress, and to unwind.  Slowing down helps to counteract the inflammatory physiological response to stress that builds up over time.
  • A sense of purpose in life.  These communities have extensive vocabularies for life purpose.  Members actively pursue this ‘reason for being’ and support others in doing likewise.
  • A conscious approach to eating. Many diets are plant-heavy and alcohol-light. Overeating is rare.
  • A sense of connection in community.  This may be the result of prioritizing cross-generational care, having consistent faith practices, and being surrounded by people with like-minded approaches to health and quality of life.

What amazes me about this work is how over thousands of years of cultural history, populations in different pockets of the world have adopted similar practices that consistently promote long, happy lives. I wonder how these practices reflect living into calls of life in ministry and discipleship, into the belief that we are made in the image of God.

We may not all want to live until we are 100 years old (Granny reminds me sometimes that she does not!), but we still can appreciate and learn from those that do.

What steps are you taking toward achieving a long and healthy life?

Catherine Wilson

(Image via Flickr user *jos*/via Creative Commons)

Walk the Walk, for Ten Minutes


A recent report from the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) had good news to share: more Americans are going for a walk!  The percentage of people who said they went for a 10-minute walk at least once in the past seven days rose from 56 percent in 2005 to 62 percent in 2010.

True, it’s not a huge increase, but I choose to be encouraged by this finding.  To me, it demonstrates a small, yet significant, ‘step’ in the right direction of more regular physical activity patterns in our country, a pattern mirrored in the lives of many of the pastors we work with through Spirited Life.  Just this month, I’ve spoken with several pastors who have set a 10-minute sized goal for walking.  Here is how it is working for them:

  • Several members of one pastor’s congregation live within a mile of the church.  The pastor straps on his walking shoes and uses his legs, not his car, to get him to a visit.
  • Instead of going directly from car to office, another pastor finds that 10 minutes of walking around the church and church grounds before heading inside is a way to clear his mind before the work day.
  • There is a walking path at a hospital where a third pastor makes regular visits, and she takes advantage of the opportunity to use a paved, traffic-free trail.
  • Another pastor takes a lap around the church’s neighborhood late afternoon and uses the time to mentally prepare for evening bible studies or meetings.

I’m really pleased to hear about these 10-minute walks because they demonstrate the pastors’ conscious choice to alter their routines and introduce a healthful practice.  The walks also can serve as a time to pray, to re-group, to reconsider if you were really hungry for a snack (or just bored), to get outside, or to listen to music.

For many people, the most challenging part of introducing exercise is finding the time, but starting with 10 minutes is a good place to start. To reap additional health benefits, the duration will need to increase, but the exercise doesn’t necessarily have to occur in a single bout. Researchers are learning that taking several 10-minute walks throughout the day is just as effective at controlling blood pressure as taking a single, longer walk of the same duration.

What strategies do you use to incorporate walking into your routine?

— Catherine Wilson

Chair Exercises


At the 2012 Winter Workshops for Spirited Life, wellness advocates led participants in a series of chair exercises that targeted stretching of postural muscles along the spine and neck.  We performed these stretches in between afternoon sessions, and some of you reported that they helped you feel more alert during the post-lunchtime lull and appreciated the opportunity to stretch and move a bit after time seated during workshop activities.

We’ve had requests for the series of exercises and instructions and have put together the video of the exercises below.   If you prefer, you can also download an mp3 of the audio to have available whenever you need a break.

A dose of spinal stretching is just a click away! We hope you enjoy them.

Audio recording (available for download from iTunesU)

— Catherine Wilson


The Quantified Self: Self-knowledge through self-tracking


Gary Wolf is a founder of the Quantified Self, a collaboration of users and toolmakers that share an interest in self-knowledge through self-tracking.  He advocates that gathering quantifiable information about yourself (hours of sleep, happiness rating, mood, time spent on various tasks, calories in, money spent, number of steps per day) can lead to knowledge and insights about your own behavior and reveal the challenges of behavior change.

Quantified Self LogoIn a recent interview with Wolf on On the Media, host Brooke Gladstone seemed skeptical.   She asked Wolf, “What keeps us optimistic is a fantasy of who we are and what we might become, and don’t we run the risk of losing hope when confronted with the harsh, numerical reality of what we really are?”

And he answered (emphasis mine):

“I think that is a very good question.  There is a whole industry devoted to selling the possibility of change to people, for instance, health clubs, which see uptake of membership after New Year’s.  Many, many things we see in our consumer culture are based on hopes that never come true.

One of the things that happens in the quantified self is that people begin to see how related all of their behaviors are, and how difficult [it is] to change one thing in isolation, and then, at the same time, how difficult it is to change many things at once.  On the one hand, this is discouraging, whether it is weight loss, or extreme improvements in happiness, or great leaps in productivity.

The promise of radical change is one of the things we live on in our society.  At the same time, I think trading fantasies of radical change for possibilities of small, important changes is a tradeoff worth making.

Gladstone later asked Wolf, “What is the most powerful truth you’ve learned about yourself by self-quantifying?”

“I track my exercise time, my work time, and I have mediation practice I track. One of the things that became clear…was [that] attempting to increase the quantity of good things that I did too much caused a complete rebound effect…

The advice to ‘go for it,’ advice that is pretty common, and, in my case, at least, it was really pernicious. You could see really clearly that, due to some influence or some ambition, I attempted to turn a steady habit of doing something up, by a lot, a short period of increased activity, say increased physical exercise, then zero on the chart, for weeks!…I think it is more common than people realize.

Really, the advice for people who are trying to do something is to do as little as you possibly can in the right direction, and see what happens, and if that works, then do another tiny little bit in that direction.

As a wellness advocate, I’m struck by Wolf’s insights as they apply to my role of supporting pastors who are pursuing wellness.  Change is difficult, and the process can be frustrating, particularly when our vision of success is unattainable, or we fail to recognize how intertwined a habit has become with our overall lifestyle.

After hearing this interview, I gained an appreciation for the effort required to accurately assess current behaviors before setting a goal and also the importance of exploring how multiple behaviors may be connected.  Self-tracking appears necessary in the process of change to determine whether the adjustments you are trying to make (in small, attainable steps) are working.

For more on this emerging science, visit Wolf’s blog or check out his TED talk.

Catherine Wilson

Photo by Flickr user Bytemarks (via Creative Commons)